Foundations: No.77 Autumn 2019

Knocking on Sinners’ Doors? Revelation 3:20, Ecclesiology and the Gospel Offer in Seventeenth-Century Puritanism

An image from the recent, though faded, history of evangelism might come to mind at the mention of Revelation 3:20,[1] perhaps a vision of a mass crusade of fifty years or so ago. The preacher is in full stride, pulling at the heart strings of the assembled crowds and comes, in a grand finale, to present an image of a sobbing, weeping Christ standing impotent outside of the hearts of those gathered. Jesus is knocking, begging admittance, if only those who are gathered are open to him.

However, while it may have been common, such an approach to Rev 3:20 has not been without its critics. The populariser of Reformed theology, R. C. Sproul has stated:

We have all heard evangelists quote from Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” (Rev 3:20). Usually the evangelist applies this text as an appeal to the unconverted, saying: “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. If you open the door, then He will come in.” In the original saying, however, Jesus directed His remarks to the church. It was not an evangelistic appeal.[2]

Here, a conversionist use of Rev 3:20 is criticised because it pays insufficient attention to the original recipients, a church. To apply “behold I stand at the door and knock” evangelistically, for Sproul, fails the test of ecclesiology.

A further example of criticism is taken up by Greg Beale and David Campbell in their commentary on Revelation. They state that Rev 3:20 “is an invitation, not for the readers to be converted, but to renew themselves in a relationship with Christ which had already begun.”[3] Soteriological implic-ations are also highlighted in relation to verse 19.[4] As this verse states that the rebukes of the letter to Laodicea are evidences of Christ’s love this provides evidence that Rev 3:20 only refers to believers, as only believers are the subjects of God’s love.

The response of Sproul and Beale and Campbell to the use of Rev 3:20 represents, perhaps, the common modern Reformed reading of that text over against its use in recent “mass-evangelism”. However, when the exegesis of Rev 3:20 around the time of the Westminster Assembly is examined, a markedly different approach emerges. A significant number of seventeenth century theologians and preachers committed to Reformed theology handle Rev 3:20 in such a way as to draw stirring conversionist appeals from it – appeals that would almost match the emotional intensity of any mass evangelist.

This raises the question of what led the English Puritans and their Scottish contemporaries to generally take a conversionist reading of “Behold I stand at the door and knock”? Evidently Rev 3:20 is an appeal addressed to a church and, equally plainly, if taken as a conversionist overture, it can seem to question the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in predestination. There is therefore something of an initial conundrum in their reading of Rev 3:20.

But the Puritans, and their contemporaries in Scotland, had their reasons for a conversionist reading of the text. They will be shown as consideration is now given, first to a foundational figure in English Puritanism, William Perkins. This is followed by examining the leading seventeenth-century Scottish theologian, Samuel Rutherford. Following this, the England Puritans John Flavel and John Owen will be considered. Of these figures, only John Owen did not habitually use Rev. 3:20 as a conversionist text. Some conclusions will then be drawn.

I. William Perkins (1558-1602)

William Perkins is a significant figure in the history of Reformed theology in the English-speaking world.[5] He is perhaps the first English Reformed theologian of international repute, and spent the productive theological years of his life in Cambridge.[6] He was preacher in the church of Great St. Andrews from the age of 26 until his death at the age of 44 in 1602, as well as a fellow in Christ’s College for some of that time.[7]

Perkins was a much-respected figure in later Puritanism.[8] Whether he himself should be classed as a Puritan is a debated point, much like the term Puritanism itself.[9] What can be said is that Perkins as a theologian was committed to experimental piety and a strongly predestinarian theology.[10] Indeed, he was one of the foremost proponents of a supralapsarian order of the decrees, that is, he viewed the object of the decree of election and reprobation not as fallen humanity, but as humanity as creatable and liable to fall (homo creabilis et labilis).[11] Perkins’ formulation of Reformed theology is therefore particularly stark. If ever someone was liable to object to the image of Christ knocking on the doors of sinners’ hearts desiring admittance, it is Perkins.

It is important to note, however, that Perkins’ robust predestinarian theology did not lead him to deny that the message of the gospel is for all. He stated, for example, that:

the calling of God [in the gospel] is twofold. The first is generall, when God calles a whole Nation, kingdome, and countrie, that is when hee offers them salvation in the meanes; as when hee sends his word amongst them… by these meanes the Lord generally calleth men, offering, but often not giving grace offered.[12]

This general calling and “offer” was in distinction from “special” calling where “grace is not only offered, but given also”.[13] Perkins was clear that even to the reprobate, in “the preaching of the word, God proffereth salvation to them, and calls them”.[14] He also stated that “reprobates have some prerogatives from God; and that he is patient towards them: that before he will destroy them, he useth many means to winne them.”[15] In addition to holding that the gospel speaks to all, Perkins also held that it was God’s revealed will that all who receive the gospel offer should accept it.[16]  He stated that God “wills the conversion of Jerusalem, in that he approoves it as a good thing in itselfe: in that he commands it, and exhorts men to it: in that he gives them all outward meanes of their conversion”.[17]

In the first citation above, Perkins sees God dealing with “a whole Nation, kingdome, and countrie”. There is a universality to the nature of the church as, under Perkins’ definition here, it is coterminous with the nation.[18] The church is not defined practically as a gathered, exclusive group of believers.[19] As such, when Perkins comes to define the various classes of people who are in the church, to whom he preaches, he lists: ignorant and unteachable unbelievers, ignorant but teachable unbelievers, knowledgeable but un-humbled unbelievers, humbled unbelievers, believers, backsliders in faith or lifestyle. Perkins then believes, on principle, that he is preaching to mixed congregations of believers and unbelievers, and this is how the church is.[20] How might this impact Perkins’ understanding of Rev 3:20? He does not intuitively equate the church with those who are regenerate. The wheat and the tares grow together in the visible church until the day of judgment.

Stark advocate of predestination though he was, Perkins’ ecclesiology leads him therefore to an understanding of Rev 3:20 where he states that this verse teaches Christ has “a hearty desire of their conversion, which hee earnestly seeketh”.[21] Rev 3:20 is a conversionist appeal. Further, this appeal expressing Christ’s “desire” was capable of being rejected. Perkins referred to “the Jews [of Christ’s day]… regarded not when God sent his owne Sonne from his bosome to knocke at the doore of their hearts”. Christ, for Perkins, as he knocks on the hearts of the hearers in the gospel, gives to all in the visible church a “conditional promise” that any who came to him would receive “mutual communion and fellowship with Christ”.[22]

This, if you will, is the foundational “Puritan” exegesis of Rev 3:20. Clothed in a doctrine of the church which equates it broadly with the nation, Christ’s appeal to Laodicea is taken as expressing “a hearty desire of their conversion, which hee earnestly seeketh”.

We will now take our detour into Scotland.

II. Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Samuel Rutherford is perhaps the most significant Scottish theologian of his generation and, like Perkins, was a theologian of international standing.[23] Thomas Torrance declares that Rutherford “was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential theologians in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition of the Post-Reformation Kirk”.[24]

Rutherford was ordained to the parish of Anworth in 1627, having previously served (prior to his dismissal for misconduct) as Professor of Humanities at Edinburgh University. Rutherford’s pastorate was marked by strident anti-Arminianism (he published Exercitationes Apologeticae Pro Divina Gratia in 1636). As a result, he was eventually banished to Aberdeen, but he returned to prominence in 1638 as the ecclesiastical tide turned, and was appointed Professor of Divinity at St Andrews University. He attended the Westminster Assembly as one of the Scottish commissioners, and had the longest attendance record of any Scottish divine, exercising significant influence on the Assembly’s debates. He returned to his work in St Andrews and was twice (1648 and 1651) offered professorships at Dutch universities, which he turned down. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Rutherford once again found himself out of favour. His Lex Rex was publicly burnt and he was charged with treason, but died before he could answer the charge.

Rutherford, then, is a figure of significance for mid-seventeenth-century Reformed theology. Like Perkins, Rutherford was a supralapsarian. Again, he stands at the stark end of the predestinarian scale. Also, like Perkins, though in a Presbyterian rather than Episcopalian setting, Rutherford is deeply committed to the idea of a national church.

1. The Church

Rutherford’s understanding of the covenant of grace entailed that just as God made a covenant with the nation Israel in the Old Testament which granted the “word of the gospel” to everyone within Israel,[25] so “the external Church Covenant and Church right to means of grace is given to a society and made with Nations under the New Testament”.[26] Within this overarching external covenant made with nations, there were two types of individuals: There were those who were only in the covenant externally, and there were those who were in the covenant internally and really, as those who had embraced Christ by faith.[27] As part of being in covenant with God externally, “the word of the Covenant is preached to you, an offer of Christ is made in the preached Gospel to you”.[28] Therefore, Rutherford held that “it cannot be denyed, but the promise is to all the Reprobate in the Visible Church whether they believe or not, for Christ is preached and promises of the Covenant are preached to Simon Magus, to Judas and all the hypocrites who stumble at the Word…”[29] Notice, again the comprehensive nature of Rutherford’s definition of the church. It is emphatically not a gathered congregation of elect believers.

2. Gospel Offers in General

We have already seen that Rutherford believes the gospel is for all who hear it. Rutherford is fulsome in the general language he uses to describe this gospel offer. He believed that Christ was “most compassionate to sinners, inviting them to come”.[30] This invitation included “obtesting” (begging someone earnestly) and “praying”.[31] So Rutherford says: “It is ordinary for a man to beg from God, for we are but His beggars; but it is a miracle to see God beg at man. Yet here is the Potter begging from the clay; the Saviour seeking from sinners.”[32]

Rutherford also held that Christ was “most compassionate to sinners, inviting them to come” (Matt 11:28-29 and John 7:37),[33] and “wept and shed tears” at the rejection of the gospel (Matt 23:37 and Luke 19:41-2).[34] To give some further examples, Rutherford interpreted Isa 55:1 “as if the Lord were grieved, and said, Wo[e] is me, alas, that thirsty souls should die in the thirst, and will not come to the water of life, Christ, and drink gratis, freely and live”.[35] God, Rutherford was clear, could say, “As I live, I delight not (so as you slanderously, and blasphemously say) in the death of a sinner; by my life, I desire you may repent and live.”[36]

3. Revelation 3:20

In this general context of the kind of language Rutherford used to describe the gospel offer, and given his definition of the church, it is natural that he sees Rev. 3:20 as speaking of “God’s outward calling, in respect of the word and sacraments… the Lord is without knocking for admittance”.[37]

Rutherford preached explicitly on Rev 3:20 on at least one occasion. In his sermon Rutherford notes that in the Letter to Laodicea “The state of men in the visible church [is] implied; though few possess Christ, high thoughts of him; and obedience to him; yet many, most of them, keep their hearts shut against him. Behold I stand without at the door.”[38] Rutherford goes on to say the text speaks of “Christ’s knocking or transaction with the poor creatures for opening their hearts to him”. In this action we have “His standing, waiting… his earnest desire and importunity of entrance…  his call and invitation[?] for where a knocking is injoyned, then must needs be a called implied.” Rutherford outlines “argument[s] or motive[s]… to persuade poor creatures to let him in”, one of the greatest of which is that Christ in his patience and grace has waited long for admittance: “I have stood a long time, I have been standing and waiting for you many years… you would have abhorred to have waited on the greatest man in the world as I have waited on you a worm, nay, I say still waiting for you… I stand at the door, a poor cold place. I stand despised and contemned… I am kept out, and that out of my own home.”[39] That is how Rutherford preached Revelation 3:20.

4. Conclusion

Rutherford’s understanding of Rev 3:20 is an example of what John Coffey has called the “intense style of extemporary conversionist preaching” common in Scotland at this time.[40] Rutherford saw no contradiction between even a supralapsarian ordering of the decrees and taking Rev 3:20 as a conversionist appeal.

At this point we will return to Puritan England and consider John Flavel and John Owen.

III. John Flavel (1627-1691)

Flavel is one of the better-known Puritan ministers.[41] He studied at University College, Oxford, and was ordained in 1650 in a Presbyterian manner. He served as minister in parishes in Devon up until his ejection under the 1662 Act of Uniformity. From 1662 he continued to preach as able. On the relaxation of restrictions on dissenters in 1687 a meeting house was built for him in Dartmouth. Flavel in his later life was active in trying to bring unity between Presbyterian and Congregationalist dissenters, acting as moderator at a meeting of dissenting ministers shortly before his death.

1. The Church

Flavel has a series of sermons in volume 4 of his works entitled, England’s Duty under the Present Gospel.[42] This is a collection of eleven sermons on Rev 3:20 which “explains God’s offer of Christ to sinners, the natural heart that resists that offer, and Christ’s patience in persisting with the offer”.[43] The occasion of this sermon series is the de facto abdication of the Roman Catholic James II, and installation of Protestant William III and Mary II as King and Queen. Flavel used that opportunity to address the nation; he felt that “England hath now a day of special mercy… this sweet voice is still heard in England, Behold I stand at the door and knock…”[44] And this is in the face of “all the high and horrid provocations, the atheism, profaneness, and bitter enmity against light and reformation”.[45] England for Flavel is backsliding Laodicea – a church state in which many (most) members need to be converted.[46] The ecclesiology of the national church undergirds Flavel’s use of Scripture.

2. Revelation 3:20

Flavel is up front about his intentions in handling the text. He says, “As to this treatise itself, thou wilt find it a persuasive to open thy heart to Christ… If thou be in an unregenerate state, then he solemnly demands in this text admission into the soul he made, by the consent of thy will…”[47] Not that Flavel deems the text is silent in speaking to believers; it does that as well. But by no means is that to the exclusion of the text being a conversionist appeal.

In Rev 3:20 we have “Christ’s wooing voice, full of heavenly rhetoric to win and gain the hearts of sinners to himself”.[48] In the text, “Christ the first-born of mercies, and in him pardon, peace, and eternal salvation are set before you.”[49] And it is God himself who offers Christ to all: “Consider who it is that makes these gracious tenders of pardon, peace, and salvation, to you; even that God whom you have so deeply wronged, whose laws you have violated, whose mercies you have spurned, and whose wrath you have justly incensed. His patience groans under the burden of your daily provocations; he loses nothing if you be damned, and receives no benefit if you be saved; yet the first motions of mercy and salvation to you freely arise out of his grace and good pleasure. God intreats you to be reconciled, 2 Cor. v. 20.”[50]

And so from this verse Flavel draws the truth that,

Christ is now come near to us in the gospel, “Behold he stands at the door and knocks”: and I am here this day to demand your answer, and in his name I do solemnly demand it; what shall I return to him that sent me? What sayest thou, sinner? Wilt thou open to Christ, or wilt thou shut him out; and with him thy own pardon, peace, and salvation.[51]

Again, “Christ this day solemnly demands entrance into thy soul; he begs thee to open to him, 2 Cor. v. 20. he commands thee to open unto him, 1 John iii. 23.”[52] Flavel powerfully applied this verse to his hearers, pleading with them to be saved:

O how tenderly did Christ resent it, when Jerusalem rejected him! It is said, Luke xix. 41. “That when Jesus came nigh to the city, he wept over it.” The Redeemer’s tears wept over obstinate Jerusalem, spake the zeal and fervency of his affection to their salvation; how loth Christ is to give up sinners. What a mournful voice is that in John v. 40. “And you will not come unto me, that you might have life.” How fain would I give you life? but you would rather die than come unto me for it. What can Christ do more to express his willingness? All the sorrows that ever touched the heart of Christ from men, were upon this account, that they would not yield to his calls and invitations.”[53]

Flavel excluded no hearer from this heartfelt call to salvation in Rev 3:20:

This expression extends the gracious offer of Christ, and brings in hope to every hearer. It is a proclamation… if any man; as if Christ should say, I will have this offer of my grace to go round to every particular person; if thou, or thou, or thou, the greatest, the vilest of sinners, of what quality or condition soever, old or young, profane or hypocritical, will hear my voice, and open to me, I will come into their souls.[54]

Flavel, like Perkins and Rutherford, sees Rev 3:20 as fundamentally a conversionist appeal based on a particular understanding of a mixed national church. We now turn to John Owen, who questioned that model of the church.

IV. John Owen (1616-1683)

The last to be considered is John Owen.[55] The “prince of the puritans”, “puritanism’s greatest theologian” or, as Oliver Crisp calls him, “one of the most important Reformed theologians to have written in the English language”.[56]

1. The Church

What distinguishes Owen from the other theologians considered is his eccles-iology. Owen, though he began as a mild Presbyterian, became a convinced Congregationalist. Owen then defines the church as “an especial society or congregation of professed believers”.[57] What Owen is arguing is that “the church consists of visible believers, voluntarily joining together in a locality to practice the ordinances and institutions of Christ”.[58] The church is “a particular congregation of covenanting visible saints, meeting together to observe Christ’s ordinances and keep his commands, with his guides and rulers”.[59]

2. Revelation 3:20

In contrast to, for example, Flavel’s understanding of Rev 3:20 as “Christ’s free and general invitation to sinners”,[60] Owen applies the text to believers. He states, “In the celebration of the gospel ordinances, God in Christ proposeth himself in an intimate manner to the believing soul… So doth Christ also exhibit himself thereunto: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock…’”[61] Again he comments, “Christ will sup with believers: he refreshes himself with his own graces in them, by his Spirit bestowed on them. The Lord Christ is exceedingly delighted in tasting of the sweet fruits of the Spirit in the saints.”[62]

Now, Owen does admit that “it is questionable whether she [Laodicea] had any thing of the life and power of grace to be found in her or no.”[63] He does admit that “the Church of Laodicea, having for a while enjoyed the word, [but] fell into such a tepid condition… Rev. iii. 15, 16”.[64] He goes so far as to say,

What, then, saith he of Laodicea? “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”. Oh, woful and sad disappointment! Oh, dreadful surprisal! Ah! how many Laodicean churches have we in the world! how many professors are members of these churches! not to mention the generality of men that live under the means of grace; all which have good hopes of their eternal condition, whilst they are despised and abhorred by the only Judge.[65]

Thus, “Laodicea knew much; but yet because she knew not her wants, she had almost as good have known nothing.”[66]

And perhaps because of this, Owen does seem to apply Rev 3:20 as a conversionist appeal on occasion: “Behold, he stands at the door of your souls, and knocks: O reject him not, lest you seek him and find him not! … if you never come to know him, it had been better you had never been. Whilst it is called To-day, then, harden not your hearts.”[67] He is also speaking “to such poor souls as, having deceived themselves, or neglected utterly their eternal condition, are not as yet really and in truth made partakers of this forgiveness.”[68] Speaking to them he says, “The Judge stands at the door. Before he deal with you as a judge, he knocks with a tender of mercy.”[69]

Yet at other times he explicitly limits Rev 3:20 to the elect:

Towards his elect not yet effectually called. Rev. iii. 20, he stands waiting at the door of their hearts and knocks for an entrance. He deals with them by all means, and yet stands and waits until “his head is filled with the dew, and his locks with the drops of the night”, Cant. v. 2… Often times for a long season he is by them scorned in his person, persecuted in his saints and ways, reviled in his word, whilst he stands at the door in the word of his patience, with his heart full of love towards their poor rebellious souls.[70]

Owen also explicitly criticises Arminius’ use of Rev 3:20:

“All unregenerate men”, saith Arminius, “have, by virtue of their free-will, a power of resisting the Holy Spirit, of rejecting the offered grace of God, of contemning the counsel of God concerning themselves, of refusing the gospel of grace, of not opening the heart to him that knocketh.” What a stout idol is this, whom neither the Holy Spirit, the grace and counsel of God, the calling of the gospel, the knocking at the door of the heart, can move at all, or in the least measure prevail against him![71]

To summarise. For Owen, Rev 3:20, is taken broadly not as a conversionist text, but as an appeal to believers, or as a description of the fellowship Christ has with his people:

Observation 1. The intimacy of the Lord Jesus with his saints, and the delight he takes in them. He dwelleth with them, he dwelleth in them, – he takes them to the nearest union with himself possible… “If”, saith he, “any man hear my voice, and open to me, I will come in to him.” And what then? “I will sup with him, and he with me.” Rev. iii. 20[72]

It is a text in which,

In the celebration of gospel ordinances, God in Christ proposeth himself in an intimate manner to the believing soul as his God and reward… So doth Christ also exhibit himself thereunto: Rev. iii. 20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Faith, therefore, directed by the word to rest in God, to receive the Lord Christ in the observation of his ordinances, is excited, increased, strengthened, and that in answer unto the appointment and promises of God.[73]

Rev 3:20 then, for Owen, speaks of existing, though weak, cold faith, being “excited, increased, strengthened”. It is not a conversionist appeal.

V. Conclusion

To conclude with a number of points:

  1. Reformed and Puritan preachers at and around the time of the Westminster Assembly were “conversionist” preachers. In pursuing the aim of conversions, their presentations of the gospel to their congregations were expressed in terms that some who caricature Reformed theology might not expect of predestinarian theologians. For example, Obadiah Sedgewick preached,

…at their doors does Christ stand and knock, He begs at the doors of beggars, mercy begs to misery, happiness begs to wretchedness, riches begs to poverty… he hath stood at thy doors with promises in his mouth, and with tears in his eyes; he hath stood at thy door with heaven in his fingers, and sorrow in his soul.[74]

And yet this is simply standard preaching for the members of the Westminster Assembly, even supralapsarians. When scholarship presents such preaching as evidence of hypothetical universalism, as in the case of Jonathan Moore’s study of the preaching of John Preston, it is simply incorrect, unless we wish to call the most vehement opponents of hypothetical universalism, such as Rutherford, hypothetical universalists.[75]

  1. The conversionist use of Rev 3:20 outlines two practical con-sequences of the general seventeenth-century Reformed teaching on the gospel offer. First, it placed the responsibility for damnation on the sinner and not on God:

Of the just cause of a sinners damnation: It is of and from himself: never lay it on God’s decrees, or want of means and helps. What could I have done more for my vineyard, &c? Isa. 5. So what could Christ do more? he calls, and crys, and knocks, and entreats, and waits, and weeps, and yet you will not accept of him, or salvation by him? … I was offered Christ and grace, I felt him knocking by his Spirit but I slighted him, grieved him, rejected him, and now it is just with God to shut the door of mercy against me.[76]

Second, it removes any excuse from unbelief. As the gospel is offered to all, there is no just reason to reject it:

There is not a sinner in this place, but Jesus Christ saith unto him, if thou wilt hear and open, I will come unto thee, and be thine, I know well enough what thou hast been, and what thou hast done… yet at thy door I stand this day, and knock, I will receive thee unto mercy, I will forgive thee all these sins, I will accept, I will save thy soul, if thou wilt open thy heart this day unto me and let me in. O Brethren, for Christ his sake refuse not Christ, do not reject, nor neglect so great salvation, so ample a salvation, so every soul inviting a salvation.[77]

  1. What distinguishes these presentations from the twentieth century “mass evangelism” we began with is not in seeing, or not seeing, Rev 3:20 as a conversionist appeal. Both are united in that. However, the Puritans never preached an impotent Christ. In the words of Sedgwick “It is himself [Christ] who makes the heart willing to open.”[78] Or as Flavel acknowledges at the start of his sermons, “if the Lord should help you open your hearts now to Christ”.[79] Again he states, “Not a soul will open, with all the reasons and demonstrations in the world, till the Almighty Power of God be put forth to that end.”[80] Or again, “no man’s will savingly and effectually opens to receive Christ, until the spiritual quickening voice of Christ be first heard by the soul.”[81] That is why Packer called the evangelistic use of Rev 3:20 by the mass evangelists of the twentieth century a “half-truth”. He was much happier with the Puritan understanding as “when they applied Rev. iii. 20 evangelistically… they took the words ‘Behold, I stand as the door and knock’ as disclosing, not the impotence of his grace apart from man’s cooperation… but rather the grace of His omnipotence in freely offering Himself to needy souls.”[82] In preaching the gospel invitation from Rev 3:20, the Puritans did not disguise or fail to disclose the need for the accompanying sovereign work of God.
  2. Ecclesiology matters more than we often realise. The nature of the church is involved in the exegesis of Rev 3:20. As figures like Owen move to a more “gathered church” model, then it becomes a natural option to understand Rev 3:20 as a text that applies to believers. Conversely, in a “mixed church” ecclesiology, it much more easily becomes a conversionist appeal. Rev 3:20 is not automatically limited to believers by a congregational ecclesiology. David Clarkson, Owen’s successor, would be one counter example.[83] Jonathan Edwards would be another.[84] However, as some scholars have suggested, when ecclesiology changes from an Anglican or a Presbyterian state church ecclesiology to a gathered-church type congregationalism, more changes than simply a view of church government. Inevitably other things change too. Ryan Kelly has commented on the Savoy declaration:

…the changes made to the WCF in the SDF are not merely those which touch upon church polity. In addition to the obvious changes on the church… there are some fairly significant doctrinal differences on repentance, assurance, gospel/justification, the covenants, eschatology, etc. Some of the Savoy’s alterations may be considered merely an elaboration or a sophistication of the WCF. But others may represent common deeper theological and hermeneutical differences between Presbyterians and Congregationalists in those days.[85]

John Owen’s exegesis of Revelation 3:20 may be one further evidence of this difference.[86]

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